Government takes note of Su-30MKI’s poor serviceability - Broadsword by Ajai Shukla - Strategy. Economics. Defence.

Home Top Ad


Wednesday 22 October 2014

Government takes note of Su-30MKI’s poor serviceability

By Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 23rd Oct 14

Even before an Indian Air Force (IAF) Sukhoi-30MKI crashed on October 14, near Lohegaon Air Base outside Pune, concern has been mounting over growing numbers of crashes, incidents involving engine failure, and the worrying fact that, at any given time, barely half the Su-30MKI fleet is available for combat missions.

According to ministry of defence (MoD) figures accessed by Business Standard, the serviceability rate of the Su-30MKI was just 48 per cent till last year. The remaining fighters were undergoing repair or maintenance.

Today, availability has risen slightly to 55 per cent, far lower than advanced western air forces, which generate 80-85 per cent availability rates. In terms of aircraft numbers, only 106 of the 193 Su-30MKIs that the IAF flies today would be available in war. The remaining 87 fighters, each worth Rs 358 crore at current prices, would remain on the ground.

“That’s more than Rs 30,000 crore just sitting there in hangars”, notes a senior MoD official.

Last month, the MoD held two high-level meetings to find solutions to this problem. According to figures presented in those meeting (a) 20 per cent of the fleet, i.e. some 39 Su-30MKIs, are undergoing “first line” and “second line” maintenance or inspections at any time, which is the IAF’s responsibility; (b) Another 11-12 per cent of the fleet is undergoing major repair and overhaul by Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd (HAL); and (c) 13-14 per cent of the fleet is grounded, awaiting major systems or repairs --- the technical terms is: “aircraft on ground”.

For decades, the IAF has accused HAL of poor workmanship and maintenance. At the MoD meeting on Su-30MKI serviceability, HAL turned the tables on the IAF.

The MoD was informed about serious problems with the IAF’s management of spares. By standard norms, a fighter fleet consumes 5 per cent of its worth in consumables and spares each year. By that benchmark the Su-30MKI fleet, currently worth about Rs 69,000 crore --- 193 Su-30MKIs at Rs 358 crore per fighter --- should consume spares worth Rs 3,450 crore annually. Yet, IAF orders from HAL add up to less than Rs 50 crore, including ground handling equipment.

Without competent inventory management by the IAF, and with spares ordered piecemeal when defects arise, Su-30MKI fighters spend weeks on the ground awaiting spares.

To ensure that 13-14 per cent of the Su-30MKI fleet is not grounded for want of spares, HAL has stockpiled spares worth Rs 400 crore in Nashik. According to S Subrahmanyan, the chief of HAL’s Nashik facility, the inventory is based on a study of consumption patterns of Su-30MKI spares over the preceding five years.

HAL says this buffer stock includes spares that are still purchased from Russia, because low consumption volumes make indigenisation non-cost-effective. Even so, non-availability of these spares could ground aircraft.

Simultaneously, HAL has proposed to the MoD that the IAF must order spares required over a 5-year period, stocking them at 25 Equipment Depot, the IAF’s holding depot for spares at Nashik.

Separately, HAL has offered the IAF “Performance Based Logistics” (PBL) for the Su-30MKI fleet --- a solution common in advanced western air forces. PBL would bind HAL to maintain the Su-30MKI, providing the IAF a specified serviceability rate --- calculated in flight hours, or as a percentage of the total aircraft fleet --- in exchange for an annual service charge.

Besides saving maintenance costs for the IAF, PBL has been found to encourage quality manufacture, since manufacturers know they will be responsible for keeping the aircraft serviceable through its operational life.

MoD officials say the IAF dislikes the PBL model, because outsourcing maintenance to HAL threatens a large maintenance empire built around “base repair depots”, manned by IAF personnel. In 2008-09, the IAF rejected HAL’s proposal for a PBL contract for maintaining the Hawk advanced jet trainer.

HAL is confident that it can deliver higher serviceability rates for the Su-30MKI than the current 58 per cent. The company has argued that raising aircraft availability by 20 per cent would make 40 Su-30MKI additionally available to the IAF, effectively adding two fighter squadrons to its strike power.

The Su-30MKI fleet, which currently numbers 193 fighters --- 50 built in Russia and 143 built by Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd (HAL), Nashik --- will rise to 272 fighters by 2018-19, when HAL delivers the last of the 222 fighters it will build.

(This is the first of a two-part series)


  1. Well analysed. Hopefully the anti-corruption plank on which the present Government has been elected, will bring us better and timely value for every paisa spent by the MoD, IAF, HAL and DRDO etc as well as by the HM & CPOs. Corruption has affected all, irrespective of the colour of dresses, uniforms or banners. That is how bad it has become. Hope it is the rock bottom and get only better hereafter.

  2. The airforce needs a 360 degrees surgery in recruitment , training, transfers , promotions , retention , retirement , housing as salaries will now triple with 7 th pay commission and educational , physical , Iq, eq, standards of all are raised considerably . The beaten path choosen from the world war two airforce needs to be discarded and western airforces standards imbibed . The slum culture of working , living prevalent at air bases and at Hal needs special scrutiny togetheer with spurious spares bought by mod civilans basd on the L-1 quotation . price low , quality low , result more accidents .

  3. In India, the Armed Forces are unfortunately put on such a high pedestal of honour and quasi-worship, that its nigh impossible to criticize them. And if you do, you're branded a fool or a traitor.

    Let's face it: Some of IAF's decisions are stupid. In fact, so stupid that they seem to smell of wrong-doing.

    Not having a PBL is one such decision. Obviously, any Air Force will like to have its servicing improved -- and thereby, crash rates reduced. But the IAF being IAF, it will not do that.

    Probably, there's a bribe machinery in place to control the servicing of the fighter jets. If it goes to professional hands with guarantees, the bribes may stop.

    No wonder the Tejas is not being inducted.

  4. Who,really decides the budget for maintenance ? IAF wil need about 3200 crore only for Su -30 . Then maybe another 5-6 000 for rest. Where is the money ?


    So why is it more a MOD level/GOI scre*up?

    They limited funds available to the IAF. IAF wants combat power. So the IAF which is basically attempting to maximize unit acquisitions and purchases by staggering Opex and spares requirements. ... t-iaf-buys

    Several major military acquisition programs are feared to be affected by the cuts. The government has allocated 2.03 trillion rupees for defense in the current fiscal year, a modest hike of just more than 5% over the last year.

    As the government scrambles to cut costs given the dismal growth rate, defense spending is one of the hardest hit areas, with the budget touching up to barely 1.79% of the country’s gross domestic product. This is a record low for India in at least three decades, with the figure dropping considerably from 3.16% of the GDP in 1987.

    But a defiant defense minister says,”Though availability of funds shall never be an issue, we need to strictly observe austerity measures circulated by the Ministry of Finance. Efforts must be made to cut down expenditure on non-core activities and avoidable ceremonial formalities.”

    Its not rocket science to figure out whats been happening. IAF wants to fund more purchases. Overall budget is limited, so juggling going on between maint and capex purchase heads to "manage" things & huge expansion of Su fleet.

    Add the Russian delay in MRO facilities in India & you have the above situation.

  6. Where would you get the serviceability rates for western airforces? Any idea about Pakistan/Russia/China?

  7. IN home minstry posts of officers from paramiltary forces were openly auctioned for bribes and in mod in hushed tones price of promotions was conveyed to eligible candidates thorough wives jounalists , intermediateries .

  8. is copying all your articles, just informing you if you in case you don't want it

  9. Sukhoi ejection issue may be "made up". It is a ploy to get MMRCA. IAF remains most expensive arm of the Armed forces. they need to be controlled. What is wrong in having LCA and Sukhoi's in future ? what is the need for MMRCA ? It is a big scam and some people in IAF are going to benefit.

  10. NSR says ---

    India must really cleanup its act if it wants to win a future war...

    SU-30MKI is a complex fighter plane to be overhauled and extreme caution needs with respect maintenance and testing to get it to the original level...

    For simple repairs and replacement of failing items, the IAF depot may be right place to do it...

    However, for complex repairs/overhauls, HAL as the manufacturer is the best place to do as they hold the knowledge of spares, manufacturing, and maintenance...

    One simple mistake will cost $100 million for India and its poor tax paying people...

    Hope that the new government takes quick action...

    Very good and timely article...

  11. The serviceability of IAF fleet is responsibility of IAF and HAL. While IAF is responsible for 1st and 2nd line servicing, HAL is responsible for Repair and Overhaul of Aircraft and it's aggregates. As stated by Mr Shukla, 20-30% of aircraft are under 1st and 2nd line servicing by IAF, which needs to be brought down to 10% by staggered flights of the aircraft. Balance 10% should be for Repair and Overhaul by HAL, which is currently around 12%, and 10% for AOG, which is at around 12%. For AOG, while HAL has to support with spares, actual recovery is to be planned and executed by IAF. If these 3 categories are maintained at 10% each, the serviceability can be maintained at 70%, for which HAL and IAF are striving hard and working jointly.
    While it is true that in Western countries the serviceability is recorded at around 80%, their methodology for calculation of serviceability is different. Unlike IAF, they consider Aircraft under 1st and 2nd line servicing, i.e. under periodic servicing, inspection, as aircraft available. Considering the same methodology, the serviceability of Su-30MKI stands at 55+20 = 75%.
    Serviceability of Fighter fleet in Russia is less than that of IAF.

  12. Force, pressure or compulsion with a view to conformity are both uncivilized and undemocratic. So we should select a goal which is good for the nation and fairly attainable.

    This is not the time to blame each other, in view of situations with neighboring countries, . We should all unite together to make India strong.

    HAL is always ready to serve the nation by serving IAF. Servicing of Sukhoi fleet should be in the hands of professionals like HAL, who knows in and out of the fighter air craft. New concepts like PBL should be implemented to improve serviceability.

    MOD should give firm decision like implementing PBL for Sukhoi fleet to improve serviceability and avoid accidents.

  13. A responsible patriotic citizens of this Nation, let us introspect how good it is to debate all these in public domain. Can we not have a system where HAL-IAF headed by MoD debate and resolve all such issues and completely ban these discussions in public domain

  14. IAF and HAL should direct their efforts towards resolving the issue and complementing each other. For MRO activities, both may assign jobs to aircraft-wise formed teams for pin-pointed accountability. More of Research & Technology and indigenisation to be encouraged for self reliance.

  15. Serviceability of front line fighter certainly is a matter of high importance for any country. It requires joint sincere efforts by all stakeholders to address the issue. Firstly, IAF shall attempt outsourcing it's First line and second line servicing through HAL to expedite. It will enhance fleet serviceability apart from developing better understanding between the customer and supplier. And also, MoD should intervene while tackling delay in supply of few critical spares from OEM, similar to any European country where all concerned join hands to get better bargaining power. Better days will certainly be there.

  16. Dear Sir,

    The Fleets value have been worked out at Rs. 358 Cr per aircraft. However the aircraft were purchased on a staggered basis since last couple of years and the cost were definitely not the same. So is it correct to say that the fleets currently worth Rs. 69000 Crs ? How do you value an asset in your books? based on current market value of at purchase cost?

    Moreover the PBL issue may not be the criteria for maintaining the quality of the aircraft during manufacture. The manufacturer has to maintain the quality irrespective of the fact whether PBL is awarded to it or not. So its not correct to say that since manufacturers know they will be responsible for keeping the aircraft serviceable through its operational life, PBL will encourage quality manufacture.

    To have required spares, budget needs to be provided in the defence budget. when fleet has been acquired there should no reason to shy away from maintaining the same by having adequate spares.

  17. with all kudos to HAL and wrath for IAF, simple doubt remains why HAL could'nt have a single serious customer other than IAF. why not an airbus boeing or any other aviation house collaborate seriously with out super efficient PSU.

  18. Why IAF is not utilising the full potential of HAL?HAL is capable of manufacturing and MRO of SU-30MKI aircraft 100%.Without blamming eachother they should serve the tricolour in synergy.PBL as suggested by HAL will definitely enhence the serviceability of SU-30MKI aircraft.HAL has got technical expertise and is very much capable of providing end to end solutions to IAF and thereby such type of inconvenience can be minimised.

  19. Why IAF is not utilising the full potential of HAL?HAL is capable of manufacturing and MRO of SU-30MKI aircraft 10u0%.Without blamming eachother they should serve the tricolour in synergy.PBL as suggested by HAL will definitely enhence the serviceability of SU-30MKI aircraft.HAL has got technical expertise and is very much capable of providing end to end solutions to IAF and thereby such type of inconvenience can be minimised.

  20. NSR says ---

    @Anonymous at 25 October 2014 19:43

    Thanks for the explanation of service of fighters in IAF and HAL...

    I implore both IAF and HAL to work together for the sake of national security to create a computerized spare part and work data base so that all the fighters can be serviced in a timely manner...

    I think SU-30MKI is a formidable fighter bomber and it must be kept in good shape as it will swat many planes from far away...

    With Astra and other BVRAAMs SU-30MKI and even Mig-29 will be formidable fighter...

    I think the issues need a close examination by technical experts with IAF and HAL representatives and evolve a smooth program management plan...

    Thanks again...

  21. Recent grounding of Su-30 reminds of grounding of HPT-32. IAF in a hurry to close the deal for Pilatus forcibly grounded the aircraft which could well have been utilised for the basic training. One may argue that HPT-32 had engine cut issue. Very few know that all piston engine aircraft have engine cut issues. None of the fatal accidents that happened on HPT-32 ever happened because of the engine cut that was being talked of. Otherwise how is it that 400000 Hours were logged by around 2000 odd pilots over 25 years of time? It is a miracle that one fine day it becomes too much. I believe, there needs to be test of psychological states of the pilots who get involved in accidents whose cause is difficult to explain must be mandated. After all they are also human beings and fallible.


Recent Posts

Page 1 of 10412345...104Next >>Last